Does The MBA Have A Problem?

Written by Phil Hall
on October 17, 2011 No Comments
Categories : Blog View

9987_weak_link.jpg Does The MBA Have A Problem? BLOG VIEW: If you attended the Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) Annual Convention last week, you will recall a high-tech peculiarity regarding the Hyatt Regency, the Chicago hotel that hosted the event. As conference attendees descended into the hotel's lower levels to attend the event's various sessions and visit the exhibit hall, many people had problems obtaining connectivity for their cell phones and other wireless devices. This, I believe, offered a cruel symbolism for the state of mortgage banking: The further down the industry goes, the more difficult it becomes to communicate effectively.

To its credit, the MBA tried to put on an aggressively happy face and a take-charge attitude in launching the convention. But the organization repeatedly mistook spin for optimism. Outgoing MBA Chairman Michael Berman showered the organization's president and CEO, David H. Stevens, with overripe praise, calling him an ‘unabashed agent of change,’ while incoming Chairman Michael Young insisted that ‘no other trade association can boast such influence in Washington, D.C.’

The MBA tried to raise spirits among the convention audience by handing out shiny lapel pins and bringing in a noisy local high school band to open the convention with a selection of rock music oldies. However, more than a few discarded lapel pins could be found scattered around the convention site, and the Sue Sylvester-worthy cold reaction to the teenage musicians clearly showed that mortgage bankers expect more than accessories and songs from the trade group.

For his part, Stevens told the audience at the convention's opening session, ‘Today is our day to tell the truth.’ But not unlike the convention audience with cell phone problems, the MBA message never quite got out to the wider world.

Instead, Stevens' pep talk was overshadowed by a visit from the Chicago branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which picketed the Hyatt Regency. A couple of protestors, according to Reuters, paid $2,245 per badge to gain admission to the convention. One protestor managed to get microphone time during a panel session to ask Michael Heid, president of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, ‘How do you sleep at night?’ The protestors were the main story on that day's media cycle, with Stevens barely rating a blip on the national news radar.

More problems from the outside world arrived when a pair of Washington powerhouses turned up to address the opening session: Rep. Spencer Bachus, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Raj Date, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's special adviser on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, offered their respective insight on the current problems. However, the men gave separate speeches and were never seen together. The inability or unwillingness of the MBA to get the Washington rivals to occupy the same stage at the same time sums up the icy polarization of federal politics.

The MBA also saved the worst news for late in the convention: On Tuesday afternoon, when many attendees were packing up to head home, the organization issued a press release saying that it ‘expects to see mortgage originations fall from an estimated $1.2 trillion in 2011 to $900 billion in 2012.’ The press release also said that the MBA is ‘predicting another tough year, with origination volumes at their lowest point since 1997.’

Stevens, reacting to the protestors that crashed the MBA's party, remarked, ‘You're not going to get anywhere simply by yelling outside.’ Maybe not, but the MBA certainly isn't getting anywhere by boasting that it has its hands on the steering wheel while ignoring that the vehicle has already run out of gas.

– Phil Hall, editor, Secondary Marketing Executive

(Please address all comments regarding this opinion column to hallp@sme-online.com.)

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